|My first visit to Jack's grave (December 1995, I believe)|
I've used that title before, but it's a good one and I am recycling it this year on the 50th(!) anniversary of Jack Kerouac's death. The line comes from the 211th Chorus of his seminal book of poetry, Mexico City Blues. Jack died this date -- October 21 -- in 1969 at age 47. He would be 97 had his predilection for drinking not robbed the world of his gifts at too early an age.
It strikes me -- perhaps for the first time but my memory is so sketchy of late that I never know -- that inner circle Kerouac fans (I mean the truly initiated, not those who've read On The Road once and think he wore a beret and played bongo drums) call him by his first name. I am not aware, although it may be the case, that this happens with other authors. Do Hemingway diehards speak of "Ernest"? King fans speak of "Stephen"? Plath devotees speak of "Sylvia"? Dickinson enthusiasts speak of "Emily"?
I think the familiarity evidenced by our calling him Jack stems from how well we have gotten to know him through his writing, which, of course, in the main was about his real life. He wrote about real characters and events, changing the names and places to avoid libel lawsuits. In literature, as we have said many times, this is called roman à clef. Jack wrote about such real people and places with brilliant honesty, and allowed us into his thoughts about them with the ultimate in transparency; thus, we can know Jack like few other authors.
On this sobering date, take a moment and read some Kerouac. Not On The Road, but something less pop culture, like The Subterraneans or Visions of Gerard or Dr. Sax. And do it aloud.
If you don't have any of those, click here for a convenient compilation of opening lines from a number of Jack's novels. Remember to read them aloud.
RIP, Jack. Thankfully, about you the old saw "Johnny we hardly knew ye" is not apropros.
Below are links to what I've said on or near this date in the past:
10/20/10 (not his death date but I posted an RIP anyway)
10/21/12 (a particularly good one, if I do say so myself)